A/CQMS Herbert Ernest Hovey

Herbert was the youngest son of William and Annie Hovey, and was born in the Hornsey area of London in 1888. Shortly after he was born his family moved to Peterborough and by the time that Herbert was 12 they had moved once again, this time to Mill Road in Cambridge.

In 1904 his father left his job on the railway and took up the position of pub landlord at the Marquis of Granby on Bridge Street, Cambridge. The family moved into the accommodation upstairs and the running of the pub became a family business, with both Annie and several of the older children working there. After Herbert finished his education he found employment with one of the Cambridge colleges and began training as a clerk. He also joined the ’99 Rowing Club and became a very active member, taking part in numerous races.

Sadly in early 1911 his father, William, died and was buried at Mill Road cemetery. The family remained at the Marquis of Granby for a while and Annie took over the running along with one of Herbert’s older brothers. In around 1914 they left the pub and moved to Victoria Road, Cambridge.

At the outbreak of war Herbert was quick to volunteer. He enlisted in the Cambridgeshire Regiment in the first week of September 1914 at Cambridge. After some training he joined the 1st Imperial Service Battalion at Bury St Edmunds as they prepared for overseas service.

Herbert went with the Battalion when they went to France in February 1915 as part of A Coy. He was heavily involved in the Cambs early actions at St Eloi and Hill 60 and wrote numerous detailed letters home.  Some time later in the year he suffered severe hearing loss due to enemy shellfire and was evacuated back to the UK.

The hearing loss prevented Herbert from going back overseas however his skill and pre-war training was put to good use and he was posted to the 3/1st Battalion as part of its clerical staff.  Herbert remained with the 3/1st for most of the war and was promoted numerous times. At the end of the war he spent some time with the 3rd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment before being medically discharged in April 1919 due to his deafness.

Herbert returned to Cambridge and married Minnie Plumb in 1920. He died in 1973 in Cambridge.

Shortly after the fighting at St Eloi on the 14th - 15th March 1915, Herbert wrote to a family friend:

Since I last wrote you our Battalion has been in a very tight corner, and I have gone through an experience which I hope will not be repeated. To commence at the beginning, last Thursday our Company moved up to within 500 yards of the firing line, and were billeted for the night in a Belgian chateau. This is in peace time quite a noted place, but now it is nothing but ruins. In appearance it is something like the Fitzwilliam Museum, only larger. Well we arrived about midnight, and slept in the cellars, and the next morning no one was allowed to show outside. About 8.30 the Germans started shelling it, and one of our batteries at the back of us replied. It was terrific, with stones and mortar flying everywhere. The same night our platoon had their first baptism of rifle fire. We had parade at 7 o’clock and then had to take sandbags up to the trenches. Every time a flare went up we had to lie flat. On arrival at the trenches we had to build the front of them up and also dig a communication trench. The fire was wicked, but only one of us got hit – rather badly, I am afraid. We got back about 4am, dead tired.

The next day (Saturday) we kept low, but when night came we had to move to a village just on our right. This place is one mass of ruins and where a church once stood nothing but the main tower stands. In the churchyard there are great holes where shells have fallen, and the smell from the open graves is shocking. That night we slept in cellars.

 Next day (Sunday) was fairly quiet until about 5 o’clock. We were just going to brew some tea when a terrific bombardment started, and we got the message down to say that the Prussian Guards had blown up a mound and taken some of the trenches, in fact had broken completely through and were coming along in thousands. Well, Jane I thought it was UP with our Company. You see, there were only 250 of us. The order was given to fix bayonets and charge down the road to a reserve trench. Tooten and I managed to get through all right and stayed there until it was dark. Shells were coming along fast, but the Germans were checked, and the ---- came along to counter attack. This failed , so they had to get a whole Brigade out.

I got detached from our fellows somehow and stayed with the ----. We charged up the fields and the side of the road. Men were falling all round. I got tangled up in some barbed wire and had to leave my overcoat and equipment. This I recovered later when the Germans were pushed back. The attack lasted all night, and I got to our headquarters about 8 o’clock the next morning ‘done to the world’. On arrival I was pleased to find Tooten all right. We had a roll call and found 120 men missing and two officers. It is feared that Capt. Tebbutt is dead.  No doubt you will read an account in the papers about a village being taken from the British on Sunday and Monday, so you will know where we are.

On the Monday night our platoon had again to go up with sandbags, and the Germans had a machine gun fixed on the road. The fire was murderous, but we got through again.

Last night (Tuesday) a lot of our fellows turned up. They had got into trenches with Regulars and could not get out until relieved at night. Incidentally, it is all night work here.

Our regiment has been moved back now to rest for several days, and we can do with it.

Back to the top of the page.

Hovey Cambs Regt WW1

Herbert while serving with the 3/1st.

Part of a letter Herbert wrote to his mother in May 1915:

Last Tuesday we were moved back into a small Belgian Town, which has been heavily shelled. Here we were supposed to have four days rest, baths and clean linen etc. Well, we had just got up the next morning when the Germans started shelling it again. I believe there were a good many casualties, but I am pleased to say that no one in my platoon was wounded. It was a terrible sight to see houses being blown to pieces and set on fire, and transport horses tearing about, for the Germans were using some of their 17in guns which send the famous ‘Jack Johnsons’.

This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark  100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.


Copyright 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 by Felix Jackson. The information and images on this site should not be reproduced without prior permission.